HDS 3944

Understanding the Role of Islam and Christianity in Politics: Religion, Modernity and Democracy

Jocelyne Cesari


The rise of Islamic parties in the unfolding Egyptian and Tunisian political transitions have raised the question of the role of religion in democratic transitions, especially when it comes to civil liberties. Blasphemy laws, in place but rarely practiced under secular autocratic regimes, are now being reconsidered. At the same time, freedom of press is not consolidated. As the 2012 controversy about the "Innocence of Muslims" video demonstrated, the relationship between freedom of expression and respect for religious identities has become an object of open and intense political contestation. The issue of when and how to restrain freedom of expression is not limited to the political transitions in the Middle East. Most established democracies restrict speech that incites to violence. Blasphemy laws of one kind or another have been in place in most Atlantic democracies until fairly recently; after much public discussion, the UK blasphemy law was only abolished in 2008. And restrictions on freedom of speech to avoid threat on democratic regime, like in Germany, have been implemented. Against this comparative backdrop, the course will address the following questions: What role do religious actors and ideas play in debates about the nature and limits of freedom of expression in emerging Muslim democracies? How does the historical and contemporary experience of Christian/secular democracies shed light on what is at stake in such debates, and how they might be resolved? Cases studies will concern Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Libya, analyzed in comparison with Eastern European and Latin American countries that went through democratic transitions in the 1980 and 1990s.

Enrollment Limited: No
Open to BTI Students: Yes


0.50 credits
Spring 2014
Thurs 12pm-2pm
Divinity Hall Room 106

Relationship to Program Requirements

Program Requirement Area / Category / Art / Designation
MTS Area(s) of Focus
  • Islamic Studies
  • Religion, Ethics, and Politics
  • Religion and the Social Sciences
MDiv Distribution Category/ies
  • Christianity
  • Islam
MDiv Art(s) of Ministry None
Language Course Designation(s) None